Radley Balko talks about collective self-interest

Over at The Agitator, Radley Balko offers an exceptional commentary on the work of the late Noble Prize-winning economist, James Buchanan on public choice theory.

While people seem to have no trouble identifying the self-serving nature of almost any entity they disagree with, they dismiss that attribute as being a factor in causes they agree with and very commonly believe that government is above self-interest. The call for government control over our behavior is almost always predicated on the idea that the government is inherently neutral, fair, and acts in the interest of the public. And yet, it takes almost no effort to see that the foremost mission of every government agency is to protect and expand its own existence.

I have a sign on my door at work that says:

There are no bad people. There are only people with a greater capacity for rationalization.

This is true. People, as individuals or as a part of an organization, rarely think of themselves as bad no matter how corrupt, violent, or dishonest they are. While American’s have no problem recognizing political corruption and police state tactics in other countries, they are blind to it when it’s happening in their own back yard because they seem to believe (after having had it drilled into them by the education system) that the American system of government is immune to such influences, aside from the few exceptions they hear about on the news.

The bottom line is that government agencies are no less self-interested than any major corporation (and they often partner with Showbox Download corporations to advance their own interests over those of the public they are supposed to serve). While they would never admit it. the FBI serves the FBI. The EPA serves the EPA. the DEA serves the DEA. While they may dress up the rhetoric with lofty claims, the public facade never characterizes their true nature. But, the power of rationalization allows those who run these agencies to believe their own words. And because they seem sincere, they are believed.

From the article:

The idea behind public choice is not that public employees are terrible, selfish, horrible people. Or at least uniquely so. It’s that they’re merely human, like the rest of us. We all like to think we put the public good ahead of our own interests, but when the two come into conflict, we usually do what’s best for ourselves, our families, our friends, or businesses, and our immediate community. That’s true whether you’re the CEO of an oil company, a Chicago cop, a truck driver, the president of a teacher’s union, or a journalist.

This concept should inform our understanding of government just as it does our view of commercial enterprises. We understand that a business operates in its own best interest and we make them prove they are trustworthy or we don’t continue to shop there. With government, we have no other choice. They are the only game in town. Why would we want to put them in charge of any aspect of our lives if we didn’t have to?

This is at the core of libertarian small-government philosophy. Congress (republican or democrat) doesn’t make laws that serve the interests of the public. They pass laws that serve the government and their corporate friends. To believe otherwise is incredibly naive. And, to think one party is less corrupt in this regard than the other, is also naive.